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Cheap Internet is a Business Liability
DSL and Cable Internet are for applications that don't lose money when the lines go down. T1 is professional grade.

By: John Shepler

There is the enthralling promise of better, faster and cheaper with digital networking. Then there is the crushing disappointment of connections gone bad. See if any of this sounds familiar...

You spent a bundle on a new VoIP phone system with the idea that you'd get all sorts of advanced PBX-style functions and screen pops when customers called for service, and still be saving money on your phone bill within the year. Then you watched helplessly as calls dropped, voices were so garbled it sounded like talking under water, and the PC screens went dead.

You're running out of supplies because the system automatically orders restocking...except the line's been dead for two days and intermittent for the last month. Maybe you won't run out of stock after all. None of the credit card machines can connect to accept purchases.

That big prospect says "thanks, but no thanks" when they can't receive your drawings and specs for the new development. Your competitor's files arrived without incident hours ago. The new $100K contract is now theirs.

Have you experienced anything like this recently? If so, your in-house system may be working as advertised. What's happening is that you've become a victim of cheap Internet service. Victim? How can that be? Broadband Internet is the heart of the Information Superhighway, right? Yeah, right.

Good Connectivity vs Bad Connectivity
Truth is that there is good connectivity and bad connectivity. Companies that are just beginning to adopt networking technology that extends beyond their organization are especially vulnerable to getting the bad variety. Why? It's the siren call of bargain broadband. For instance, which sounds like the better deal for your operation: Broadband Internet with 3 Mbps download speed for $30 a month or 1.5 Mbps for $300 a month?

Oh that's easy, you say. Give me the $30 solution. We'll, you got it. That's why you're so happy you could cry right now. That $30 solution could be costing you $300 or $600 a month in lost profits, lost customers and lost sales opportunities. Just how patient are your customers when their Web browser freezes as they try to order from your website, their emails get returned as undeliverable, and the phone lines won't connect?

It's not necessarily that you've been snookered by an ISP that's trying to take your money and withhold service. It's more likely that you're misapplying the service. The $30 solution is almost always a DSL or Cable Internet connection. These are offered as "information services" by telephone companies with DSL, and cable companies with Cable broadband. The reason they are so reasonably priced is that they aren't the main service offered on those lines. They are an extra service that comes along for the ride. This service is not regulated by the government. It is offered on a "best effort" basis by the provider.

What this means is that your low cost broadband is not guaranteed to be up and running for any percentage of the time. You are sharing what's known as a high speed "backbone" connection to the Internet simultaneously with dozens or hundreds of your peers. If there is a problem with the equipment that does that sharing, called multiplexing, or the provider just needs to make adjustments or work on the lines, your connection goes down. Cable companies are notorious for this. While they work on improving someone's TV reception, everybody sharing that part of the cable run finds their TV and Internet connections cutting in and out. It may only be a few minutes a day, or the whole system may go down for hours at a time.

You'll get your 3 Mbps download, but not all the time. The speed will vary depending on how many other people are using the line. You might even get 6 Mbps at times or a tenth of that at other times. If you are any distance from the local phone office, your DSL speeds are likely to be under 1 Mbps, maybe even half that. Plus, unless you qualify as a "residential" user for a home office, you'll pay business rates that are perhaps $100 to $150 for that $30 broadband connection.

How Paying More Per Month is Actually Cheaper
Now lets consider that 1.5 Mbps connection for $300 a month. Sounds pricey at first glance. But look closer and you'll find that this T1 line runs at 1.5 Mbps upload and download continuously. It's not shared. It's a dedicated connection to the Internet backbone, which is itself likely running at optical network speeds in the 1 to 10 Gbps range. There's nothing to slow you down. T1 service is also a regulated service provided by telecommunications providers, including incumbent and competitive phone companies. When you sign your contract it includes an SLA or Service Level Agreement that specifies the availability of your connection and provides for remedies if the telecom company doesn't comply. Being a regulated service, if the line gets cut or equipment fails, the provider is going to hop right on the problem. You'll get rapid and personal attention to your issues.

The sobering lesson that first-time business broadband users learn is that consumer broadband connections don't cut it for business. Certainly not if the outages have consequences in the form of lost business and customer dissatisfaction. Only if you are otherwise technically self-contained and use the Internet on a casual basis or for the convenience of data transfers that aren't time critical, does "best effort" broadband make any sense as a cost saver. Otherwise it's likely going to be a profit reducer when the lost sales are deducted from the line savings.

If you are caught up in the sea change of technology that is sweeping the small and medium business market, SMBs from branch offices to quick service retailers, sales and marketing organizations, and independent professional offices, you should take a serious look at protecting your capital investment and good name by installing professional grade telephone and wide area networking connectivity. The most common and cost effective connections are T1 lines that are available for voice, data or a combination of the two. You can get T1 dedicated Internet service or T1 private lines to interconnect your branch offices. MPLS networks give you anywhere to anywhere mesh connections to securely and reliably interconnect far flung business locations.

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